Magical Realism in Venezuela

A man was trying to get rid of his nerves by making butterflies out of pieces of paper. He made one, two, three… and then he threw them away. Once they were out of his hands, the butterflies flew with the wind and crashed with a wall, but instead of falling, they mixed with it. They became paintings. (This is a vague memory from the book A hundred years of Solitude.)

Today I’m going to talk about Magical Realism*, not as a literary trend but as a lifestyle. I’ve come to the realization that we, Latin Americans, live in a constant state of Magical Realism. It might seem estrange for a foreigner how we could talk about encounters with spirits, in first person, while we drink our usual cup of coffee every morning; as if we were talking about the news or the last episode of our favorite TV show.

Ghosts, spirits or presences (it doesn’t matter how you want to call them) are part of our daily life and they could be as normal as any other thing.

I was born in a city (San Cristóbal) in the borders between Venezuela and Colombia. My grandparents still live there, so I go to visit them from time to time (as most of my relatives do). I talk about this city because it is the center of magical realism in my life. Whenever I go there, I get so involved with my family’s lifestyle that I start thinking with their logic, and I start believing in many things that I wouldn’t believe if I were in my house in Caracas, or in the USA. For example:

–          If there are black butterflies in your house, it means that someone close to you will die.

–          Places have positive and negative energies that can affect you.

–          There’s a life after death. In this world. You’re never alone.

–          It is possible to predict the future.

–          Some people can perceive much more than others. They can see what no one sees; feel what no one feels to the extent that they will be able to know your deepest secrets and feelings without even talking to you.

–          Bad energies can harm you.

–          Miracles exist.

I could go on forever, and still… it is so hard to explain and even harder to understand when you don’t live it.

Many years ago, I was spending the night at my uncle’s place (in San Cristobal city). While my cousins and I were playing, he came out of his meditation room and in a really peaceful mood; he told my aunt that their neighbor had died just a few minutes ago. ‘How do you know?’ my aunt asked him. ‘I saw a shadow reflected on my candle and I figured out that it was him saying goodbye’ he replied. A few minutes after he said this, my aunt called the neighbors and yes, unfortunately my uncle was right.

How cannot I believe in something like this after I live it? I’ve experienced so many things like this, that saying “oh, it happened by chance or accident” is no longer an excuse. It seems to me that Magical things can be real. Maybe we haven’t found an acceptable explanation for them yet, but that’s not a valid reason to deny them. Our knowledge seems so vast, but it is so limited…

Maybe this Magical Realist lifestyle could be an explanation for our patience with this government that keeps on creating ‘magic’ excuses to explain its incompetence. The latest and most ridiculous of them is the following: Venezuela is suffering the worse power crisis of its history. Some time ago, a community called Lecherías lost electricity for two days. (The electricity company of the country was nationalized some years ago) The electricity company explained that the problem had been caused by a lizard that had eaten some of the main cables that provided the city with electricity. Are they kidding us? Isn’t this a “magic” excuse that has become real?

* Magical Realism is an aesthetic style or narrative mode in literature in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality.


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